Saturday, March 31, 2007

Divorce Rates

I've long been under the impression, from watching the disasters going on around me, that a lot of divorces are driven, at their core, by economic pressures. The divorces that I have seen have often been of the following model:

1. Mom and Dad both work full-time.

2. Mom and Dad both come up exhausted.

3. Dad comes home, puts up his feet; Mom starts work on "the second shift": laundry, cleaning, dinner, helping kids with homework.

4. At the end of an exhausting day, Dad still wants a romantic interlude; Mom is too tired. Even in homes where Dad is doing his share of the responsibilities under #3, men and women are somewhat different. Men are usually not too tired for a romp between the sheets; women often are.

5. Eventually, the result of #4 is that, under the best of conditions, Dad meets some gal at work who isn't too tired, or Mom meets some guy who is willing to listen to her complaints about her life--at least long enough for the romp between the sheets that Dad isn't getting.

Eventually, the marriage breaks up.

I was reading a paper that my wife was grading that made the rather interesting claim that there's no correlation between divorce and income levels. This was rather startling to me--and apparently not true. I found quite a number of papers, from quite a range of years, that show that the lower your income level, the more likely that you are to get divorced:
Characterizing the situation as one of “not as much marriage” among disadvantaged people misses an important distinction. Tying the knot does not seem to be an issue: rather, the problem appears to be maintaining the union thereafter. Statistics from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), as reported by Bramlett and Mosher (2002), demonstrate this distinction for a variety of individual and community-level indicators of disadvantage.

Through their early 30s, economically disadvantaged adults actually are more likely to marry than advantaged adults. The proportions ever married by age are shown in Exhibit 1 by education (top panel) and neighborhood income level (bottom panel). Fractions ever married are much higher among women with no more than a high school degree in the young adult years, but begin to narrow by age 30. By age 35, other statistics show that the fractions ever married are virtually the same across education groups (Ellwood and Jencks 2001, Tables A11-13). A similar story appears in comparisons by neighborhood income level (Exhibit 1, bottom panel). Through their 30s, women from the most affluent neighborhoods (e.g., in the upper 25 percent of median family incomes) are less likely than those from less affluent neighborhoods to have married. The differences here are somewhat narrower than for education while women are in their 20s, likely because education provides a direct indication of marriage postponement for the sake of college and career.

Looking at Exhibit 2, we see that at every level of education, blacks are substantially less likely to marry than whites or Hispanics. This finding reinforces the warning that differences across race — ethnicity groups may not be informative about differences based on economic status.

In contrast to getting married, the difficulty of staying married increases substantially with levels of economic disadvantage. The probability of splitting up in each year after first marriage is consistently higher for women with less, than for those with more, education (Exhibit 3, top panel) and for those from less, compared with more, affluent neighborhoods (bottom panel). The effect of neighborhood income level is especially large. For example, the probability of breaking up within 10 years of marriage is nearly twice as high for women from the bottom quarter (44 percent break-up) as for those from the top quarter (23 percent break-up) of neighborhoods ranked by median family income.

This paper
, like many others, shows that no-fault divorce laws increase divorce rates. (This has to be among the major "Duh!" discoveries of all time. That was the reason for no-fault divorce laws--to make it easier to get divorced!) As the abstract explains:
Also, education and income data from the United States Bureau of the Census and religiosity data from the Glenmary Research Center were used to assess the relation of education, median family income, and religiosity to the post-no-fault divorce rate. Results revealed that no-fault divorce law had a significant positive effect on the divorce rate across the 50 states. Of the moderators that we considered, median family income was the only significant predictor of the change in divorce rate; the adjusted post-no-fault divorce rate increased as median family income increased.
Interesting. My guess is that a lot of people who were reasonably comfortable to downright wealthy tolerated a marriage that wasn't completely happy because the alternative was seeing much of the shared wealth end up with the lawyers in a contested divorce. No-fault divorce reduced the financial pain, and thus made it a bit easier for people with money to say, "Okay, I've had enough. I'm outta here!"

This report claims:
The data in Table 1 show virtually no relationship between the number of hours the wife worked outside the home and the reported marital happiness of either the wife or the husband. There is no definitive evidence that the wife's working outside the home does affect marital quality, but these cross-sectional data do not prove that it does not.
I'm not quite sure what this saying. It almost sounds like a double negative to avoid admitting that there is some correlation, but it is a very small one. Perhaps there is some confounding relationship involved; maybe a lot of women who are staying at home to raise children are doing so because they have so little in the way of job skills that it doesn't make sense for them to work outside the home, and because these families have very high divorce rates because of low incomes, it is disguising such a connection.

I wish that I more time to read these studies and consider them in more detail; my wife and I are headed out for our 27th anniversary dinner onboard the Thunder Mountain Line, a train that will serve us dinner while we wind up through the forests north of here.

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